Stalwart fans of CASUALTY (or those who have recently invested in the early series DVD’s!) will remember actress Lisa Bowerman, who played one half of the show’s first paramedic duos. Her character, Sandra Mute, will also be remembered as the first main character to be killed off, after being stabbed in the back of an ambulance. In a fascinating interview with one of CASUALTY’s original cast members, Lisa kindly shared her memories with holby.tv…
CASUALTY recently celebrated it’s 20th anniversary, do you have fond memories of working on CASUALTY as one of it’s original cast members?
Mixed emotions to be honest. I had a great time actually filming the show – but because I was never taken on as an ‘official regular’, I spent a lot of time waiting around to see whether I was actually booked for the next block. I remember I had to be cut from one episode in the first series, as they’d forgotten to book me. I have very fond memories though of working with Bob Pugh!
Did you ever think back then that CASUALTY would still be a success today? Do you ever watch any of the show now?
I knew it had legs.. just not for this long. To be honest I don’t watch it now – it’s a very different show. Though I did audition for an episode at the end of last year – for an abusive grandmother!
Did you enjoy playing the character of Sandra Mute? What were your most memorable storylines?
She was a great character. She’d actually originally been written as a man – so there were no concessions at all for her being female in the first few episodes. I suppose I have to say my ‘death’ was the most memorable – though I have strong memories of the motorway pile up in Series 1 and Duffy’s rape episode.
You were CASUALTY’s first major character to be killed off – how did you feel about getting such a storyline? What was it like to film? This storyline was said to help have done a lot to boost ratings for the show, did you get much response from viewers at the time?
I had been expecting it (as it had been my suggestion!) The show wasn’t due to go past Series 2, as it had been so controversial and the BBC were getting nervous; so we all assumed it would be finishing.
It was hard work to film, especially in the back of an ambulance, as the location they’d picked, for some unknown reason, was near a Post Office Parcel Depot and at 4 in the morning, when we usually filmed, we had to stop every two minutes to let the lorries drive past. I was very proud I summoned up my own tears – but by the 15th lorry and the 15th take, I’d resorted to the onions and menthol stick! I have heard over the years, that my decision to go effectively saved the show – I wouldn’t go that far.
The writing had got a lot more consistant over the second series and it had settled in – making it a better show. I knew the rating had been high for my last one and I remember the subject of my demise producing heated debate on the BBC access programme ‘Open Air’. I got quite a few letters, all really sympathetic; ranging from the ‘come back in the shower’ ones to ‘we all prayed for you in school assembly this morning’ – which was quite sweet!
Was it your decision to be written out of the show? Did you take any keepsakes with you from your time on CASUALTY?
Yes, it was my decision. Geraint Morris had said he felt the show had too many regulars in it and was I prepared to go back to ‘semi regular’? It had been my first TV job and I thought it foolish to go backwards in the show. I knew Robert Pugh was leaving as he was busy writing then and as we all thought the series was ending, I decided on the spur of the moment to say ‘No I’d go’ – but I wanted to go for a reason, not just disappear. So I said, rather rashly, ‘Why not kill me off?’. He checked a few times that I meant it and the rest is history! Sadly I have no keepsakes.. apart from the ambulance in the back garden!
Can you remember your first scene/ words filming on CASUALTY? Were you nervous when you first joined the show?
Yep – ‘Where to?’. Belting down Ashton Hill in the ambulance – with Bob in the front, 6 crew in the back, a lighting gantry on the front bonnet, a camera clamped to the side and a slightly green looking Clive Haddrell (our ambulance advisor) standing at the gates of Brunel, waving goodbye, as I drove away his brand new, state of the art ambulance I’d only driven once before that morning – ofcourse I wasn’t nervous!
Do you still keep in touch with any cast members from CASUALTY?
Yes a few. Debbie Roza (who’s just moved back to Canada), Bernard Gallagher and although we weren’t together at the same time, I’m very good friends with Susan Franklyn (Valerie Sinclair from Series 3/4) I see Derek Thompson, Geoff Leesley and Eddie Nestor from time to time.
You are also now a professional photographer, can you tell us about your company and what started your passion for photography?
Blimey – long story.. I’ll keep it short! Started taking Spotlight shots at drama school (23 years ago) – kept it up after I left college and set up as a business 16 years ago. I’m known now as ‘LB Photography’ (as everyone thought I’d given up acting!)
Avid Dr Who fans also know you as the voice of Bernice Summerfield in audio plays. Did you enjoy this role?
I’m still doing it – 8 years and counting! I’m incredibly grateful to Big Finish, the audio company. The Bernice Adventures were their first project; they then went on to get the licence from the BBC to make the official ‘Doctor Who’ audios. They do a range of other sci-fi series as well and I’ve been lucky enough to be involved in a few of them.
I was actually in the TV ‘Doctor Who’ back in ’89 (the last transmitted BBC story before this new series) – directed by Alan Waring – who I’d done CASUALTY with and from there, all those years later, got Bernice. She’s a fantastic character to play – a 26th century archaeologist, for those who don’t know, and pre-dates Lara Croft! I’ve been tremendously lucky with having had some really strong scripts. Despite her Doctor Who associations (she was created as a Doctor Who assistant in the novels), I really think she stands on her own. I’d love to see the audios get a wider audience (there are over 30 to choose from).. is that a shameless plug? Probably!